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State takes on religious argument against vaccination mandate

Health care workers protest being mandated to get

Health care workers protest being mandated to get the COVID-19 vaccine outside the New York State Office Building in Hauppauge on Friday. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

Defending a state-declared vaccination mandate for health care workers, a court filing by state health officials took on the heart of one of the arguments made by those resisting coronavirus vaccines based on religious objections.

In their written response late Wednesday to a lawsuit filed by 17 anonymous health care professionals, state government and health officials argued that the "fetal cell lines" present in vaccines that some vaccine-opposed health care workers cited are already in vaccines previously required by the state to protect against other diseases.

"Importantly, the rubella vaccination, developed using the same fetal cell lines, is already required of health care workers in New York State," Dr. Elizabeth Rausch-Phung, director of the New York State Department of Health Bureau of Immunization, wrote in the state’s written response to the suit.

Some nurses and other health care employees across the Island and state have said they have a strong religious objection to COVID vaccines because of the purported inclusion of aborted fetal cells.

Health officials have repeatedly said none of the vaccines contains fetal cells, although the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was developed using clones of "cell lines" created decades ago using fetal tissue, according to the New York City Department of Health.

Additionally, Pope Francis has urged Catholics to get vaccinated. Some Catholic dioceses, including the Diocese of Rockville Centre, have advised parishioners to take the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines instead of Johnson & Johnson.

The state's response comes as the state's vaccine deadline for health care workers loom.

By Monday, Sept. 27, health care staffers statewide must have at least one dose of one of the three COVID-19 vaccines or face possible termination, though the state can't enforce the mandates against workers raising religious objections at least until Oct. 12 under a restraining order issued by an upstate federal judge. Legal experts say the order won't delay employer-imposed mandates.

The suit against the state mandate alleges it "violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments, the Supremacy Clause, and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution."

The state said in its 22-page response that the "absence of religious exemptions in mandatory vaccination laws is not a novel concept in New York State," pointing to rules governing mandatory vaccination policies in schools.

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